image sourceGetty Imagesimage captionSarah Rainsford, who is currently based in Moscow, is an experienced foreign correspondent

The BBC has condemned Russia's decision to not renew the visa of one of its correspondents in the country, calling it a "direct assault on media freedom".

The corporation urged Russian officials to reconsider the "expulsion" of Sarah Rainsford, currently based in Moscow.

Russian state media said Rainsford would have to leave at the end of the month, when her accreditation expires.

The report said the move was in retaliation for the UK's refusal to grant visas to Russian journalists.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said in a post on Telegram that the Russian government had warned repeatedly that it would respond to what she called visa-related persecution of Russian journalists in the UK.

In a statement, BBC Director-General Tim Davie said: "The expulsion of Sarah Rainsford is a direct assault on media freedom which we condemn unreservedly.

"Sarah is an exceptional and fearless journalist. She is a fluent Russian speaker who provides independent and in-depth reporting of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Her journalism informs the BBC's audiences of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

"We urge the Russian authorities to reconsider their decision. In the meantime, we will continue to report events in the region independently and impartially."

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office described the move as "another unjustified step by the Russian authorities".

Rainsford is an experienced foreign correspondent who has previously been based in Havana, Istanbul and Madrid.

Most recently, she has won respect for her reporting in Belarus where earlier this week she challenged long-time President Alexander Lukashenko over human rights abuses.

The expulsion is the first of a British journalist from Russia in a decade, a tit-for-tat move as relations between the two countries worsen.

In 2019, UK media regulator Ofcom fined the state-backed Russian broadcaster RT for breaking impartiality rules over its coverage of the poisoning in Salisbury of the former Russian intelligence officer, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia.